August 8, 2015

Understanding those tests of faith

Isaiah 14:24–16:14, Luke 6:1–49, Job 4:12–21

God used the enemies of Israel to cure them of their idolatry, which must have been a huge humiliation. However, when the cleansing was finished, God told them, “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder.” He added, “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:24–27)

When God put me through trials that crushed my idols and caused me to hate my favorite sins, I could sense the same promise. It sounded something like, “Be patient with Me, I’m not finished with you yet, and when I am done, those things will not bother you anymore.”

During trials of faith, people offer all sorts of advice. Job’s friends did, but they did not comfort him. At the end of the book, God rebukes Job’s friends for “not speaking what is right” so when I read what they had to say to Job, I need to remembering this. For instance, here is a portion of Eliphaz’ first speech.

“‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth. Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces; they perish forever without anyone regarding it. Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them, do they not die, and that without wisdom?” (Job 4:17–21)

It is true that no one is right with God or pure, yet even in the Old Testament, righteousness was by faith not performance. In the eyes of God, and because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (both before it happened and after) God’s people are right with Him and pure. We dwell in a house of clay (our human bodies) yet we will not perish forever, again because of Jesus Christ who gives us His eternal life. When in trials, the only way to stand is by holding to those eternal truths. Job did, and Eliphaz was wrong.
Later, the people struggled with Jesus because He spoke against their religious traditions and interpretations. Like the well-meaning friends of Job, their understanding was often contrary to the Word of God.

For instance, they challenged what Jesus did on the Sabbath when his disciples plucked and ate some grain and when He healed the sick. Jesus challenged them back: “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?  . . .The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath . . . . I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:1-5, 9)

He said other things that did not make sense to them too, such as “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:20–23)

And, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . . If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:27-28, 32–35)

These words were a rebuke to what they valued, such as no work on the Sabbath, not even to pick grain. Who wanted to be poor or persecuted? And who thought they should love their enemies?

Jesus also told them, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned . . . .” (Luke 6:37) Perhaps that is the main problem with Job’s comforters; their words were said in judgment and condemnation. They were not ‘speaking the truth in love. Besides, all of us are guilty of sin and all of us deserve worse than what happened to Job. That means no one has any right to judge others because all of us are sinners who fall short and are also guilty.

This points to the greatest benefit of trials. In them, I recognize my own sinfulness. This is humiliating, but also a blessing because God rids me of those sins, just as He got rid of the Assyrians in ancient Israel. Trials also make me feel greater empathy for others. We all have trouble with sin and that means no one can be judgmental.

This does not mean that I should never evaluate what others do, but it has to be in the same spirit that I evaluate myself — not to condemn but to pray for God’s forgiving and His amazing cleansing grace. 

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